This is beyond doubt, and without hyperbole, the absolutely best-written characterizations of Vader and the Emperor put in a novel to date.
Taking place smack in the middle of the Dark Times (8 years after Revenge of the Sith, 11 years before A New Hope), the remnants of the Clone Wars come back to haunt the Sith in the form of Cham Syndulla and his freedom fighters.
Unlike many books focusing on the Dark Side characters, the heroes in this book matter. Syndulla is the William Wallace of Ryloth, having fought for his world’s freedom since before the Clone Wars began. Time and experience has made him formidable enough to pull off a mission that could actually threaten the core of the Empire itself. The Imperial officers at the forefront likewise demonstrate how the Empire has bred corruption and treachery, which play right in to Syndulla’s operations. The result is that the Sith are tested at virtually every level.
Being honest, we have a good idea before this even begins how it’ll play out, but a book like this is about the journey, not the destination. And oh what a journey it is! Suffice it to say, the action is unleashed in chapter one, and there is very little downtime as this book’s pacing is as relentless as Vader himself. Fans of the original trilogy will recognize our classic villain, while fans of the prequel era and especially of The Clone Wars will have no problem seeing Anakin Skywalker under the breath mask, purified by his anger as a living engine of destruction. The officers hate him, while the stormtrooper corps revere him. We see him behind the lightsaber and behind the controls of his starfighter. It’s a seamless incorporation of all aspects of the character, pulling the various threads together and showing us exactly what kind of a monster Vader has become. It meets and exceeds every expectation on that front.
Sidious, on the other hand… what we saw from him in Revenge of the Sith is but a taste of what this book gives us. By the end of this, it’s indisputable why Vader bends the knee. As fearless and intelligent as Vader is demonstrated to be, Sidious remains always one step ahead.
As narrator, Jonathan Davis is one of the best veterans of the Star Wars line, and it’s always good to have him aboard. He doesn’t do voice matching, but the spirit of the characters are there, aided where necessary by filters. Mix in the classic sound effects (except for some inferior substitute for Vader’s breath mask) and the music of John Williams, and the adventure is ready to unfold.